Transformers: Age of Extinction has been pretty much sold on a single image: Optimus Prime riding atop a fire-breathing robot T-rex. On that promise, the film certainly delivers. It's just difficult to justify sitting through the rest of the 160 plus minutes of the movie to get to that payoff. The film isn't even really trying to make sense anymore; its component parts no longer fitting together in any logical way. It's meant to be mindless fun, but the film somehow makes that feel like punishment.
The film takes place some four years after the last movie. The US government has been cracking down on the Transformers, hunting them down and killing them indiscriminately. In Texas, amateur inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) has stumbled onto a heavily damaged Optimus Prime. He helps the Autobot out, and consequently becomes a target for the forces hunting Prime down. In order to get his life back and keep his teenage daughter Tessa (Nicole Peltz) safe, Cade teams up with Prime to discover the truth behind this government plot.
As it turns out, the truth is mainly a lot of setup. The film seems to be designed mostly to introduce a bunch of concepts meant to pay off in future movies. The Transformers movies have never been held to much of a standard when it comes to narrative, but this movie still feels like it falls short on that department. It refuses to function on even the most basic levels. The film’s first big chase action sequence, for example, just suddenly ends. The bad guys still have the heroes in view, and could conceivably still follow after them. But they don’t, because the movie doesn’t want them to.
The argument, when it comes to films like this, is that you’re supposed to turn your mind off. And that’s all right. But this film goes a step further and seems to ask audiences to actively reject sense. It no longer provides even the slightest pretense of a logical sequence of events. There is no attempt to make any of the ensuing chaos mean anything at all. It’s all just boilerplate blockbuster nonsense, the characters barely registering on screen. Even the action doesn’t really register, as the heroes are mainly paired up against nameless enemies that don’t get to do anything cool. The real focus of the film is the millions of tons of computer-generated debris.
The film luxuriates in floating particles and crumbling buildings. It is certainly an achievement in the depiction of urban destruction. But in the end, it’s all just a lot of crud stuck up on screen. The action barely makes any sense, with the sequences often so badly shot and edited that it’s sometimes hard to tell how one thing leads to another. The new cast is passable, mainly because they aren’t really tasked to do a whole lot. Mark Wahlberg wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice for “inventor,” but he does all right. Nicole Peltz doesn’t really leave much of an impression beyond her looks. Stanley Tucci helps a bit, providing some much needed levity.
It is worth repeating that Transformers: Age of Extinction is 165 minutes long. There is just no reason on Earth that a movie so dumb should be so long. This is where the film loses its claim to being mindless fun. You can only turn off your brain for so long before it starts accumulating damage. The film just keep clattering on, piling on the noise and debris until nothing on screen makes sense anymore. To be fair, Optimus Prime riding a robot T-rex is pretty cool, but even that isn’t worth the price of sitting through the rest of this nonsense.